Tag Archives: Transition

Code blue – save that change!

aedEach morning I notice the AED defibrillator when I exit the stairwell on my way to my office. If I am running late I may be slightly out of breath from running up the stairs but I have never needed the defibrillator, thank goodness! Yet, I am glad that the leaders in our organization don’t just talk about healthy employees but take accountability and are committed to the health of their people. They purchased and put AED devices on each floor and provided training on how to use them. I am trained and it is a good feeling to know that we have resources available and I know what to do in the event of a health emergency.

Change leaders have a similar responsibility to align their own behaviors and take accountability for their role in building accountability for change in the overall institution. The Implementation Institute uses the acronym CPR to help leaders build accountability for actual behavior change and execution in change initiatives.

C – Communicate: Clearly define, articulate and share the specific behaviors, performance and actions that are a part of the change.

P – Practice: Clearly determine what behaviors you need to personally demonstrate to show your commitment to the change. “Practice what you preach”

R– Reinforce: Create an infrastructure, policies and practices that reinforce the desired behaviors, successful and initially unsuccessful attempts at the new behaviors, and other activities that support the change.

Leaders who understand the importance of change CPR and actively communicate, practice and reinforce the desired behaviors necessary for a change to succeed will build accountability and commitment through their higher education institutions or any type of organization.

Todd Thorsgaard

The road to change

road trip

In honor of Willie Nelson’s 81st birthday today, here is a quote from the great song writer and troubadour. Not very helpful in leading change but worth a smile!

I believe that all roads lead to the same place – and that is wherever all roads lead to.

In contrast to Willie’s philosophy, I am actually planning a road trip for later in May to the West Point Academy in New York to attend the 2014 graduation of a cadet. We will cover over 2500 miles and the roads we choose and the decisions we make during the trip will be very important to the success of our journey!

Recent work in neuroscience and leadership by David Rock and Elliot Berkman suggests that setting goals is much more like planning for and going on a long road trip than a one-time activity. For goals to be effective and lead to change they need to engage two parts of our brain, why the goal is important and how it will be accomplished. Yet our brains are not capable of engaging both at the same time. This means that our goals need integrate both aspects and make it easy for people to move back and forth when they get stuck during change initiatives.

Berkman and Rock use the acronym AIM and the metaphor of a road trip to help leaders set effective goals for change in the workplace. They propose an integrative model of goals and goal pursuit consisting of:

  • Antecedents – the pre-trip planning. Make the goal memorable, motivating and social.
  • Integration – the “rubber hitting the road.” Your goals need to make it easy to shift between the why and the how. Focus on the mile by mile choices, trade-offs and decisions that need to be made during long trips. Provide insight on how to step back in the moment and stay focused on the long run. In other words, stay focused on the road ahead and not the potholes!
  • Maintenance – using cruise control to stay on track. Include goals that provide rewards and build habits so that the change becomes “hard-wired.”

When I return from West Point I will let you know how well we did with the integration and maintenance goal process. Hopefully my three travel companions and I will make it to the graduation safely, on-time and still speaking with each other!

Todd Thorsgaard


Orchestrate the strategy

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I am standing on a chair, surrounded by 200 strangers, all singing “Happy Birthday” to me at the top of their lungs! Not how I envisioned my day when I woke up on April 1st over 15 years ago. I was out of town at a leadership development conference. I did not know a soul, and as an introvert, that was fine with me. It was my birthday but I had no plans to celebrate until I returned home. Yet I ended up celebrating with a roomful!

How did it happen and how does this relate to strategy, you ask? A conductor is the answer to both. conductorI heard Robert Eichenger speak this week. Eichenger is co-founder of Lominger Consulting, vice chairman of the Korn/Ferry Institute on Leadership, and the co-creator of the Leadership Architect competency tool, and he believes that the first overall responsibility of a leader is to orchestrate a strategy for change. He uses orchestrate to clarify that leaders on their own don’t create or implement the strategy. They pull together the diverse talents on their team and draw out a strategy that leverages each person and delivers on the overall group or institution’s vision. Leaders are the conductors of strategy, not the creators.

It was also a conductor who orchestrated an unexpected birthday celebration for me and a leadership lesson for orchestrating a successful strategy for change. Benjamin Zander, world renowned conductor for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, was the morning keynote speaker at the conference I was attending many years ago. Zander believes that leaders can become transformative conductors and help teams reach new, unknown, levels of performance  if they follow three simple rules when orchestrating the strategy for change, outlined in a FastCompany interview.

  1. The conductor doesn’t make a sound. Focus on what you can do to help your team “sound better.”
  2. Everybody gets an A. Help your people operate from their talents, where they get A’s.
  3. Play the contribution game, not the success game. Transform the conversation and the strategy to focus on how each person can make a contribution.

In less than 10 minutes Zander had a sleepy group of strangers all singing, in harmony, with smiles on their faces and me standing on a chair. A magnificent performance that none of us knew we were capable of achieving. A successful change.

This isn’t a video of my birthday song but in this TEDTalk you can watch Zander help people realize their untapped love for new possibilities. As one of the comments states, “Be that guy!”

Todd Thorsgaard


Avoid a dead end strategy!

Bilingual-Caution-Dead-End-Sign-K-9245Do you remember the last time you and your family or friends drove to a city you had not visited before? You were probably excited to find new adventures or at least your hotel.  What if every street you turned down was a dead end? No way to get to your hotel, no new sites, no museums, no shops and no new adventures. Sounds frustrating, demoralizing and even likely to cause tension and conflict!

The same thing can happen when we use strategies that send our change efforts down dead end roads. Yet we often do this as leaders without being aware of it. One common strategy tool is SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).  A study by Harold E. Klein and Mark D’ Esposito published in 2008 suggests that SWOT analysis and planning actually brings change to a screeching halt at “mental dead ends.” The creativity and complexity involved in successful change requires a different type of strategy and thinking than SWOT analyses create. Their work, and other research in neurocognition and neuroleadership, indicates that we need to use strategy tools that evoke richer mental imagery, more expansive thinking, and fewer either-or choices than a traditional SWOT activity.

Last October Anita shared a strategy tool in her post, Let your vision SOAR, that we use in our work. The open-ended questions used in creating strategy with SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results) engage people and help them create rich mental images of future opportunities, aspirations and results. Using SOAR to develop your change strategy leverages how our brains actually work and can help you avoid dead ends in your change efforts.

Todd Thorsgaard



Ready, set, go!

As I watched the Sochi Olympics I was reminded of the importance of a good start. Races are not won at the start but they sure can be lost by a poor start. The same holds true for leading change. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been called in to help leaders who are struggling with a change initiative and what we often discover is that they are focusing their energy on the wrong issue. They are training their people when what is needed is clear communication, or they are holding team meetings and exploring cultural issues instead of clearly defining short-term goals.

As a leader you are busy and need to put your energy into the right place to get a strong start to your change initiative. A change readiness assessment can help you create a clear picture of your current state and start you and your team moving towards your desired future state. Change readiness measures the technical and cultural factors that influence the speed and sustainability of any change implementation. Once you understand more about your current state of change readiness you can be more strategic using the elements of successful change.FINAL Change Image_Page_1 (see our post describing the elements here)

To help you get your change off to a strong start I want to share two resources that I have used during change initiatives. The first one provides a broad view of both the technical and cultural components of change readiness. It was created by Procsi Inc. (click here to open resource in a new window) and is based on their ADKAR model of change.  The second assessment is by William Bridges & Associates (click here to open resource in a new window). The Bridges change readiness assessment highlights the cultural side of change and helps identify what your people need to get to the start line of the change and where you need to focus your change management actions.

What you learn about the change readiness of your people and your organization will help you utilize the overall elements of successful change and get a clean fast start.

Todd Thorsgaard

Not again!

How often does this thought run through your mind, “I thought that last change had solved our problem, I can’t believe I have to deal with it again!” Ryan-Gander-Oh-No-Not-Aga-005

It seems like many of the changes that vex leaders are related to recurring issues that keep popping up, again and again. Does that mean we are making mistakes in our change leadership? Have the wrong solution or the wrong people on the team? I believe not! A more accurate assessment of your current state may be that you are dealing with an adaptive challenge.

Adaptive problems require a longer term change strategy to ensure success than technical problems do, as described by Dr. Ronald Heifetz in the following video. Heifitz, the founder of the Center for Public Leadership and a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Affairs, describes the differences between adaptive challenges and so-called technical problems and highlights adaptive challenges as requiring a “sustained period of disequilibrium.” The nature of adaptive challenges means that any resulting changes will evolve and shift over time and not be able to be implemented and done with. Your change management efforts will need to support “a productive zone of disturbance and discomfort” over a long period of time  Dr. Ronald Heifetz video

Learning to recognize the differences between adaptive challenges and technical problems will help you as you assess your current state and develop your change strategy. It may also help you feel less stressed as “problems” resurface, like the critters in “whack a mole!” whack a mole

Todd Thorsgaard

Make it real!

Think back to any change you have experienced or led. What made it real? Actual new behavior! While we need to address the hearts and minds of the people on our teams and ourselves, we never know if a change has occurred until we can see different behaviors. In my old tech days we would say, what you see is what you get or logo_wysiwyg

In other words, to make it real, successful change requires the implementation and demonstration of desired new behaviors. The first element of change leadership is to assess the current state and how it is different from your desired future state. This gap analysis will drive your strategy for change and the successful demonstration of the desired new behaviors.

The Implementation Institute, a change management firm, highlights five organizational elements to include in your gap analysis:

  1. Organizational Strategy or Mission
  2. The Formal & Informal Systems of How Work Gets Done
  3. Your Organizational Structure and Hierarchy
  4. The Talent in Your Organization
  5. Your Organizational Culture or The Way Work Gets Done

Working with the people you lead to clearly describe where your team or institution is on each element (current state) and where you need to go (future state) will start to make the change real and provide a solid foundation for the work required to actually change behaviors.

Thinking about your crucial changes ahead, do you clearly know what your current state is? Equally importantly, do the people on your team?

Todd Thorsgaard

What does change look like to you?

If you ask 10 people to describe change I am confident you will get at least 20 different answers, depending on the day or even the last 10 minutes.White-Water-Rafting-Canada1                   For some it is an exciting ride into the future. Full of energy and adventure!

For others it is a scary experience they weren’t expecting and have no control over.

wind-bournemouth_1210640iOr it can be a peaceful period of growth and fulfillment.


As a leader I imagine you have experienced change that felt like each of these and many more. The same goes for each person on your team and in your organization. Yet you are being asked to lead changes and move your people and institutions forward at a faster and faster pace.

While we can’t promise a smooth landing, or an adventure with no water in your face, Anita, Dee Anne and I are looking forward to exploring a path that can help you lead and manage change successfully. FINAL Change Image_Page_1You can click on the image for our picture of successful change.

Over the next 11 months we will share ideas, tips, resources and open up a dialogue with you focusing on the following key elements of leading change:

  1. Assess Current State
  2. Articulate Vision for Future State
  3. Set Strategy and Goals
  4. Engage Stakeholders
  5. Build Accountability and Commitment
  6. Develop Capacity
  7. Take Action
  8. Reinforce the New Normal
  9. Evaluate Results

Change is ahead, are you ready to lead down the path?

Todd Thorsgaard

What do we face in 2014?

Successful leaders are vigilant and pay attention to factors, large and small, that will have an impact on their people and themselves. It is almost impossible to not be awafuture signsre of the key issues that exist in higher education that will be driving change over the next year. Yet as leaders it is also important to be continually scanning the entire environment and using that information to help you lead your people during change.

In conjunction with leadership consultant Sarah Bridges, we have created a Situational Awareness Worksheet that can be used to help you conduct an “environmental scan” to identify external factors that will need to be a part of your overall change leadership strategy. One factor when leading change is an awareness of the workplace culture. Each institution and each work team has its own culture but a recent article from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists provides a Top 10 List Workplace Trends for 2014 that can be used as a starting point when you scan your environment.

Trend #6, Integrating Technology into the Workplace, is one that will be very important in my work leading change over the next year. I have discovered that new technology often feels like a threat and that reaction can derail change efforts. What I view as a tech enhancement and a positive change is viewed as a condemnation of past practice and stops collaboration and change! Including that knowledge into the change plan ensures that it is not overlooked and the concerns addresses.

What trends will be most important for you as you lead change in 2014?

Todd Thorsgaard


Happy Newnew-years-resolution-for-site Year! It is good to be back blogging and taking part in this dialogue with you.

As Anita described, we are looking forward to a lively, back and forth, conversation focused on leading change in higher education. Change is a fact of life. No one can avoid change or stop it, but as leaders, you have the opportunity to take action and lead purposeful change that will make a difference for the students you serve and improve your institution’s viability. Your people also look to you to support them through the changes that are occurring on your campuses. Leading change is like a New Year’s resolution! It makes perfect sense yet can be so hard to keep.

The author and businessman, Harvey Mackay, has a few suggestions to help leaders keep their resolutions. In a recent column he encourages leaders to pick just one or two resolutions and to skip the boring ones. Pick one that excites you and will energize you.  I know that the need for new levels of collaboration that  Charting the Future highlights for MnSCU energizes me and will drive my “resolution” for 2014. To facilitate change  I will be reaching out to a wider set of stakeholders and actively seeking ideas that challenge my assumptions. 

What excites you at your institution and how can you use that energy to “keep” your leading change resolution?

Todd Thorsgaard